By Mike Zummo
When Wallkill’s senior class came to the Wallkill varsity lacrosse team, the Panthers were winless.
Now the Panthers are sitting on top of the Section 9 Class C boys’ lacrosse mountain after beating the Highland Huskies, 13-5, at Wallkill High School on Friday night.
It was the Panthers’ first Section 9 lacrosse championship since 2012.
“It’s awesome,” said senior Chad Castle, who led Wallkill with four goals and four assists. “We went from a low team, a low lacrosse school, but now we’re up and we won the section chip. I’m so happy.”
Castle’s four games on Friday night left him with 96 goals for his varsity career. Barring injury, he would have eclipsed the century mark, but the cancellation of the spring 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic took away the opportunity.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have my junior year to get that 100, but still putting all those goals in, especially this year to get that second chip, it feels great,” Castle said.
The Panthers’ 10 seniors have been essential in turning the team’s fortunes around, taking them from a team that went 0-14 before they arrived and converting a recent winner into a section champion.
The Panthers would have had most of the same roster last year if COVID-19 hadn’t wiped out the season.
Those seniors make up five of the Panthers’ six captains.
“That talks about how great they are,” Wallkill coach Alex Danon said. “But it’s not even just that. They help out with the youth league. They get the kids involved. They have fun with them and they’re always volunteering to help us with stuff. They’re setting us up for hopefully a lot more years of pretty good lacrosse.”
Most of the compacted season was played under COVID-19 restrictions, which limited fan attendance and forced everyone to wear masks. Recent changes in the state’s COVID-19 guidance not only took away the outdoor mask mandate, but loosened capacity requirements.
The Wallkill community took advantage, filling the stand in support of the Panthers.
“It was just crazy the support we got from literally everywhere, like anywhere in town,” senior goalie Dylan Jowell said. “There’s people I’ve never seen before here. It’s awesome to see a crowd this big finally coming out to lacrosse. We were such a low team for so long, and we’ve grown every single year.”
Jowell did his part, making 19 saves, as the Panthers built a 9-1 lead with 6:30 left in the second quarter.
“We are nothing without Dylan,” Castle said. “I’m so thankful I had him as my goalie for four years. And I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.”
David Goll scored three goals for the Panthers and Colin McCartney had two goals and an assist. Ty Crowley had two goals and three assists. Aaron Rubenstein had two goals and an assist. Ritchie Martinez also had an assist.
Now, with the season over, 10 seniors will depart the Wallkill lacrosse program, leaving next year’s seniors to keep the Panthers strong going forward.
“We brought some younger guys up for the playoffs so they can experience this and be a part, and some of them played a big role in our playoff games. I expect a lot from them coming back, but we graduated a lot.
But we also return a lot of starters. We should hopefully be in good hands next year.”